Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Two Records in Arctic Melt This Summer

August 11th, 2019

There is perhaps a bit too much media hype about July 2019 being the warmest month on record. If you go to the source — the European Copernicus Climate Service article,  the official statement is that “July 2019 was on a par with, and possibly marginally higher than, that of July 2016”.  This is important to note because NASA and NOAA have yet to provide their own summaries for July, and because of uncertainties in the surface temperature record and varying techniques for measuring global temperature among groups, it’s possible July 2016 will remain the record based on other scientific agencies. However, it’s still been a hot summer overall, with June 2019 very clearly the hottest June ever.

This warmth has been felt in the Arctic, as well. Surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet has been particularly high this summer, and it recently experienced its highest daily melt area ever recorded, based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over 60% of the ice sheet was melting at the surface. In the world of sea ice, it is unlikely that we break the all-time record from 2012 for the annual daily minimum sea ice extent, as that coincided with the strongest storm ever recorded in the Arctic (which helped break up and melt the ice pack).  However, there has never been less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in July than in 2019.

 

Last fieldwork of the summer: A local section with a mystery limestone

August 7th, 2019

It was a delightful August day in northeastern Ohio with pleasant temperatures and thunderstorms that obligingly went around us. Nick Wiesenberg, our geology technician, and I were invited by Dr. Nigel Brush (Ashland University) and friends to examine an outcrop of the Cuyahoga Formation (Lower Carboniferous) near Jeromesville, about a 25 minute drive west of Wooster. Nigel has been investigating a strange limestone in a thick shale sequence that doesn’t seem to fit into our known stratigraphy for the region. I’m always up for a new limestone to look at! As a bonus, the shales here have excellent fossils, especially in concretionary beds. The outcrop, with Nick for scale, is about ten meters high. It is on land owned by the Bricker family, who are geology enthusiasts with beautiful rock and fossil collections.

The shale cliff is steep and has been cut rapidly by the stream (Quaker Springs Run). assisted by occasional dredging of the channel for gravel. The limestone in question is about a meter over our heads here. That’s me, Nigel Brush, and Jeff Dilyard. Photo by Nick.

The shale beds contain siderite concretionary beds loaded with fossils. The most common are spiriferid and spiriferinid brachiopods preserved as internal and external molds and occasionally their original calcite. The taxonomy of these brachiopods is well known, but their paleoecology is still to be determined. (Future Independent Study projects!)

Here is a piece of that limestone eroded from the cliff into the stream. You can immediately see how different it is from the surrounding muddy shales. It is cross-bedded, coarse-grained, and loaded with shale intraclasts (the gray chips), which are mud flakes that were incorporated into the rock while it was being deposited. It looks very much like a storm deposit, possibly associated with a sudden drop in sea level (and rise again).

We took a piece of the above limestone and cut it with a rock saw to begin assessing its composition and fabric. The round grains you see are almost entirely crinoid fragments, mostly stem and arm fragments. The gray chips are the shale intraclasts. Clearly this rock has a story to tell! We will now make acetate peels of this limestone for microscopic study.

One primary question we must address is just where this unit fits in the local stratigraphy. We know it is the Cuyahoga Formation, but which member? It could be the Wooster Shale, Armstrong, or Meadville Shale. One clue would be the conodonts present in the rock. Conodonts are phosphatic dental elements of long-extinct swimming animals. They have considerable biostratigraphic value and so can be used to place units in a stratigraphic column. Since they are phosphatic, they can be collected from limestones by dissolving the carbonate matrix with formic acid and sifting through the remaining insoluble residue. I did this for my dissertation many years ago, and most recently Dean Thomas (’17) dissolved Ordovician limestones for these little critters. I started the process this evening in the paleo lab. Above you see two basins which contain limestone fragments in a 10% solution of formic acid. They are bubbling furiously as the carbonate dissolves. In a few days I’ll sieve the residues and see if we have any conodonts. You’ll be the first to know.

Thank you, Nigel Brush, for the invitation and all your expert fieldwork. It was a fun day as the summer wanes and our first classes of the fall rush towards us.

 

Shamrock Glacier, Neacola Mountains, Alaska

August 7th, 2019

While in the Neacola Mountains of Alaska last month, we flew over Shamrock Glacier. This first image is from the head of the glacier, where crevasses have been filled in with snow during the accumulation season.

Farther down the north-flowing glacier, we see the merging of the east and west branches and a fine example of a medial moraine.  However, also note on the far lower-right the recently exposed rock. This part of the glacier is shrinking in size, becoming a narrower ice stream.

The toe of Shamrock Glacier is just plain beautiful, ending at a small lake that is dammed from two larger lakes by a ring of moraines. Estimates in a blog post by Mauri Pelto are that the glacier extended all the way out to that moraine as recently as 1950.

In fact, back in 2015, Mauri showed a Landsat satellite image showing the retreat of Shamrock Glacier away from its moraine from 1987 to 2014.  Updating this with the most recent July 2019 imagery, you can see the continued retreat of Shamrock Glacier just in the past four years.  A big section on the left has calved off, and the glacier has slipped off a rise on the right.

Finally, taking a view from the ground, we can better see how the glacier has not only retreated back, but also thinned and narrowed over the past few years. (The 2015 line is based on a photo from Jerry Pillarelli It’s still a pretty glacier, and the sound of calving icebergs while eating lunch  is always welcome.  However, it won’t be long before it retreats upslope sufficiently to no longer calve off into the lake.

Wooster undergraduate researchers will share findings at international conference

August 2nd, 2019

Wooster, OH – Team Geochemistry finished a highly productive summer research season with two conference abstracts that we submitted to the 2019 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. AGU will be an excellent opportunity for the team to hone their presentation skills, network with potential employers and graduate school advisors, and explore the wide range of disciplines in the geosciences. Read about our work in the abstracts:

Ok and Bræðravirki offer us opportunities to explore past climates and interactions between volcanoes and glaciers, helping us predict what might be in store for Iceland and other ice-covered volcanoes across the world. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

A Geochemical Study of Bræðravirki Ridge (Western Volcanic Zone, Iceland) Reveals Regional Glaciovolcanic Variations and Complex Tindar Construction 

By Hannah Grachen, Simon Crawford-Muscat, Billy Irving, Meagen Pollock, Benjamin R. Edwards, Shelley A. Judge, Layali Banna, Kendra Devereux, Marisa Schaefer

Summary: As global ice recedes in response to climate change, volcanoes that erupted under the ice are becoming more exposed. We studied one such subglacial volcano in Iceland called Bræðravirki Ridge, and found that Bræðravirki is chemically different from other nearby subglacial volcanoes. We also found that there were several packages of volcanic ash and lava that were erupted at different times. These findings show that subglacial eruptions are complicated, and we might be able to use these types of observations to understand more about the history of volcanoes and glacial ice in an area.

Although tuyas in the Western Volcanic Zone (WVZ) of Iceland have been studied in detail, little work has been done on the numerous smaller tindars there. This study compares Bræðravirki Ridge, a 3-km long tindar on the southeastern flank of Ok shield volcano in the WVZ, to regional tuyas and creates a model for ridge formation based on combined mapping and geochemical analyses. Bræðravirki is dominated by palagonitized lapilli tuff with scattered intrusions, rare exposures of intact pillow lavas, and multiple tuff/lapilli tuff units. Whole rock samples were measured for major and trace elements by XRF and ICP-MS. Mineral compositions were measured by SEM-EDS. Major elements show that Bræðravirki is relatively enriched in SiO2 and depleted in CaO, FeO*, and MgO compared to regional data. Within the ridge, vitric tuff/lapilli tuff units are more evolved (MgO 6.29-6.66 wt.%) than other units (MgO 6.94-7.72 wt.%). Preliminary Rhyolite-MELTS (v. 1.0.1) models are consistent with the two compositional groups being genetically related by 3 kb fractional crystallization of a common parent magma. The MELTS models generate plagioclase (An61 to An70) and two pyroxene (low- and high-Ca) compositions that are observed in the SEM-EDS mineral data. Incompatible trace elements show limited variation between the two compositional groups (Nb/Y 0.37-0.41), suggesting stable melting conditions. We propose a two-stage eruptive model that begins with an explosive phase, followed by a second explosive-effusive phase that forms intrusions and pillows. The second phase is hypothesized to be initiated by a recharge event, emplacing the higher-MgO units. This study demonstrates that small tindars can be constructed through multiple eruptive events that shift in eruptive style and that glaciovolcanic edifices in the same region can have significant compositional differences, possibly providing insights into the understanding of their timing, magmatic history, and paleo-ice conditions.

Microscope photo of one of the granitic rock samples that was classified using the new and old naming systems.

New Igneous Classification System Produces Consistent Rock Names and Illuminates Modal Data

By Hannah Grachen, Anna Cooke, Charley Hankla, Ethan Killian, Cody Park, Layali Banna, Kendra Devereux, Meagen Pollock

Summary: Rock names are useful for understanding what a rock is made of, how it formed, and how it might be useful. For rocks that form from molten magma, the current naming system doesn’t communicate all of the relevant information. Earlier this year, scientists proposed a controversial new naming system to make rock names more meaningful. We tested the new naming system and found that it worked well at the microscopic scale but was more confusing when using the naked eye. We found that the new rock names contained more useful information than the old rock names, and we think that the new system could become the future of rock classification.

In the February 2019 issue of GSA Today, Glazner et al. proposed a new classification system for igneous rocks, citing shortcomings within the standard International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) classification system, in use since 1974; chiefly its inability to convey modal data and its arbitrary division of interrelated rocks into disparate types. Their proposed system recognizes rock classifications on ternary diagrams to be “fuzzy” rather than distinct, therefore better representing the continuous nature of rock sequences and lending their system the term “fuzzy classification scheme”. They suggest a system of limited root names combined with modal percentage numbers and significant accessory minerals to provide more informative and straightforward rock names. To test this claim, we have named a suite of six thin sections and hand samples of granitic rocks from Songo Pluton, North Jay Quarry, Mount Waldo, and Deer Isle, using both the IUGS and “fuzzy” classification schemes. We also obtained modes on thin sections through quantitative image analysis using Adobe Illustrator and ImageJ, this being an important step in our process due to the difficulty of differentiating alkali feldspar and plagioclase in our samples. We determined that while the comments on Glazner et al.’s paper are critical, in the tests we performed, some of those criticisms, such as the non-replicability of the proposed system due to interpretive bias, are insubstantial. In thin section, the fuzzy system naming led to more consistent naming results than in hand sample observations, while the opposite was true in hand sample. One of the things we would suggest after conducting our tests is to include boundaries to distinguish the names in a better way. Overall, the proposed system’s ease of data communication is an improvement on the IUGS system that warrants more attention and modification.

Team Geochemistry’s Grand Finale

July 31st, 2019

Wooster, OH – Team Geochemistry wrapped up their grand adventure last week. The summer research experience left us with fond memories of trips to Dickinson College and Iceland, knowledge of lots of new analytical techniques, and many new friendships, not to mention the important findings from a critical field site that we’ll be presenting at the December meeting of AGU. Here are some parting thoughts on our bittersweet ending from guest blogger Kendra Devereux (’21):

After returning from Iceland, team geochemistry has been hard at work prepping their samples. In just two short weeks, all 23 whole rock samples from the field have been cleaned, powdered, sieved and turned into fused glass beads and pressed pellets.

Hannah, Layali, and Kendra spent the first week back from Iceland sieving their powdered samples.

Layali happily sieving!

Hannah happily sieving!

Hannah finished her time for the summer last week and is busy moving to Florida with her family, leaving Layali and Kendra on their own for their last week of work. Layali and Kendra spent this past week making 23 fused glass beads and 23 pressed pellets

Pressed pellets and glass beads are all ready to be analyzed with the XRF next week!

As a celebration of all their hard work, Dr. Pollock, Layali, and Kendra enjoyed “Taste of Wooster” downtown on Thursday night.

A delicious chocolate marshmallow whoopie pie from The Blue Rooster.

After 8 weeks together, team geochemistry have said goodbye until the 2019-2020 school year begins!

Wooster geologists working at site of first glacier memorial in Iceland

July 23rd, 2019

Iceland – Big news this week as researchers dedicate the first-ever monument to Okjökull glacier, memorializing the first Icelandic glacier to lose its glacier status to climate change. Ice loss in Iceland is dramatic; researchers expect all of Iceland’s glaciers to go extinct in the next ~200 years, with drastic changes to Icelandic culture and economy. As the ice retreats and reveals the underlying land, scientists can investigate ancient volcanoes that erupted thousands of years ago under the glacier. Wooster geologists were with a team from Dickinson College on the scene of Ok volcano this summer, exploring a glaciovolcanic ridge that is now exposed on the southeast flank of Ok volcano.

View of Ok shield volcano from the south. Bræðravirki is the glaciovolcanic ridge on the southeast flank of Ok volcano. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

Another view of Bræðravirki ridge from the east. The summit of Ok volcano is off of the photo to the right. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

Most of Bræðravirki ridge is made of yellow ash that was erupted explosively and has been consolidated into a rock called tuff. The patterns in the rock tell us about how it formed. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

The tuff has a distinct yellow color that forms when the volcanic ash reacts with hot water. We also see glassy black rocks in the ash that we think are volcanic bombs, which form when lava is ejected violently during an explosive eruption. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

The ridge also has irregularly shaped bodies of massive rock. These are light gray and extremely hard, with a unique pattern of cracks that forms as the molten rock cools and solidifies. We think these are fingers of magma that get injected into the growing ash pile. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

Ok volcano and Bræðravirki ridge give us the opportunity to explore past climates and interactions between volcanoes and glaciers, helping us predict what might be in store for Iceland and other ice-covered volcanoes across the world. (Photo Credit: Hannah Grachen)

Look for us at the December 2019 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, CA (USA), where we will be presenting our findings from Bræðravirki ridge.

Summer undergraduate researchers travel to Iceland to explore volcanoes

July 19th, 2019

Iceland – In our last post, Team Geochemistry was getting ready to head to Iceland for some field work on volcanoes. Our goals were to map and sample volcanoes that erupted under glaciers, which have since retreated, exposing the pillow lavas and ash that formed when lava met ice. We met up with a research team from the Dickinson College Earth Sciences Department, and also brought Dr. Shelley Judge, Wooster’s structural geologist. Together, we collected over 30 samples, took 1000s of photos, flew the drone for 8 hours, and made 100s of structural measurements. Overall, it was a successful and productive field season, with some laughs along the way! Layali Banna, member of Team Geochemistry (and basalt goddess), describes their field experience.

[Guest blogger Layali Banna] Last week, team geochemistry went to Iceland. We met up with some old friends there, but we met some new ones as well. In total there were ten of us and we were ready to take Iceland by storm.

All of us walking along Undirhlíðar (from left to right: Phoebe, Dr. Edwards, Marisa, Dr. Judge, Dr. Pollock, Kendra, Layali and Ethan; Hannah Is behind the camera taking the photo.)

After a long day of flying we decided to mostly take it easy, just doing a short walk around a nearby quarry to learn more about what we will be looking for out in the field.

Dr. Pollock posing for her glamour shot.

The second day was much different though – we spent almost all day out on Hannah’s site collecting samples for her project at Bræðravirki ridge. Divided into two teams, one group walked the ridge collecting samples, while the other group used a drone to map the ridge. This was a prime time up at the ridge since there was no snow cover, unlike past years where the gullies were hidden by snow, allowing us a great look at it without anything in the way.

Kendra smiling with Prestahnúkur in the background, which is a rhyolite volcano.

A gulley on Bræðravirki that was buried in snow during past years was now accessible for sampling.

Our third day in Iceland after that long day in Bræðravirki we spent the morning inside working on our field books and collecting some data, making observations on our samples.

 

Everyone working together to look through all the samples we had collected the day prior.

The latter half of the day we surveyed Undirhlíðar and ended up goofing around a bit at a certain spot called the bowl.

Kendra and Marisa trying to figure out how they are going to climb up the side of the bowl.

After our half day we returned to Undirhlíðar. This time we were split up into three groups all doing different things in separate areas. One group mapped with drones, another analyzed and mapped deformation bands, taking samples and pictures of the bands, and the last group went and took samples for Marisa’s project.

A beautiful, thick, glassy dike found on Undirhlíðar.

Time for a snack break! Marisa is eating a nutritious energy boosting cookie.

Finally, on our last day in Iceland everyone was given a free day to do what they want, exploring some of the natural wonders the island has to offer as well as touring the capital of Iceland, ReykjavÍk.

Hannah finally getting her photo taken instead of her always being the one taking them at Krýsuvík thermal zone.

The group stopped for some famous Icelandic street dogs in ReykjavÍk, Kendra is ready to dig in.

All too soon it was time for us to pack our bags and say goodbye to our friends and Iceland. It was time to head back to Wooster and work on the samples we collected in the lab.

 

A continental heat wave won’t stop Wooster Geologists …

July 18th, 2019

… but it will slow us down! Today Nick Wiesenberg, our excellent departmental technician, and I took a short day trip to southeastern Indiana to collect fossils for my upcoming Paleoecology course. It was in the middle of what may be globally the hottest month on record, as well as the start of a long extreme heat event in North America. It was plenty hot and sticky, but the fossils were toasty warm and inviting. Nick is shown above on my favorite outcrop of the Upper Ordovician Whitewater Formation along US 27 (locality C/W-148). It is no doubt the most photographed section on this blog. [Update: July 2019 was indeed the hottest month ever. Sadly, I’m sure it will later be superseded by a still hotter one.]

Here is the same scene in March 2017 with Wooster students Luke Kosowatz and Matthew Shearer. Note the white icicles!

And here am I testing the concept that baggy clothes are cooler. I’m standing on an outcrop of the Upper Ordovician Liberty Formation exposed along IN 101 (locality C/W-149).

Nick and I were successful in filling a box with beautiful fossils for lab exercises, and we were happy to retreat to the air-conditioned car for the four-hour ride back home!

Tree Corps Visits the Tree Ring Lab

July 11th, 2019

Tree Corps visits the Wooster Tree Ring Lab. Tree Corps is a program run out of the Holden Arboretum designed to provide training to the arboriculture workforce in the Cleveland Area. It is funded by the Cleveland Foundation and this is the second year the group has visited Wooster. We all learned a lot from each other and everyone got to core some of the oaks on campus with the end of assessing tree health and age.

The group discusses the information that can be derived from the tree-ring record. This black oak shows outward signs of deterioration, however inside it is solid. In terms of management, the location of the tree with respect to foot traffic,  balanced with other pressing tree issues across campus, all need to be considered when assessing the possible removal of this tree.

Nick extracts a core from the oak and discusses the reasons for the various discolorations of the wood.

Josh Charlton (class of 2019, purple shirt) was visiting the lab and offers some advice in coring – thanks Josh for your help.

 

 

 

 

 

We also spent some time coring pin oaks on campus. Great fast growing trees – the group mounted up the cores and analysis of the tree rings is underway. Thanks to Tree Corps for making it down to the lab, we look forward to following the future progress of the group in arboriculture.

The week leading up to international field work

July 6th, 2019

Wooster, OH – In the week leading up to field work, Team Geochemistry was frantically trying to “put out fires” and clean up loose-ends.

The “fires” started first thing Monday morning, when a leak in the geochemistry lab caused the ceiling to collapse. Fortunately, the students and cleaning staff were quick thinking and all ended well.

Next, we tried to wrap up our petrology classification project, which involved lots of microscope work. Classifying minerals in the microscope was more challenging than we expected, and we still have more work to do when we return from the field.

Finally, we had to gather our field gear, double-checking that we had everything we needed. Undoubtedly, there will be something that we forgot.

Even with the frantic pace of the week, we still made some time for an ice cream (or two!). It was the Fourth of July holiday, after all.

Team Geochemistry in currently en route to Iceland for some field work. We’ll be reunited with Marisa, our teammate from Dickinson College, along with Dr. Ben Edwards and three other Dickinson students. Dr. Shelley Judge, from Wooster, is also joining us for this field excursion. Look for updates from the field late next week!

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